Iowa General Assembly still split for 85th session


Photo courtesy of Lisa Heddens

David Bartholomew

Come January, state legislators from across Iowa will begin a new session at the Iowa General Assembly in Des Moines.

The control of the General Assembly remains the same, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives as well as the governorship. However, optimism for productive legislation appears to be in the air in regards to many issues pertinent to the state of Iowa.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said economic and educational issues like student financial aid, K-12 education reform, job creation and training, commercial property tax relief, and the implementation of health care reform are all major tasks the General Assembly will face in January.

Despite the partisan rift in Des Moines, Quirmbach said he is confident bipartisan agreements can be reached on a number of issues, especially education reform and commercial property tax relief.

“On education reform, we passed a bipartisan bill last year; that was a good first step. I have already had discussions with Jason Glass, director of education, about how to proceed with the next stage,” Quirmbach said. “Commercial property tax relief has been identified as a goal of both parties. Two years ago the Senate passed a bipartisan bill, but the House did not go along. I am hoping that with a newly elected House, we can come to common ground.”

However, David Swenson, associate scientist in the economics department at Iowa State, sees a slightly more gridlocked General Assembly this year and does not see either party as having the upper hand in negotiations over these issues.

“The Iowa General Assembly is split,” Swenson said. “There is just no evidence that one side or the other has the upper hand this year.”

Despite this equal split of power, Swenson stills sees potential for compromise on a variety of issues, especially, as Quirmbach pointed out, on commercial property tax relief. Both sides in the past have expressed a need for commercial property tax relief. The friction remains in the details, but that can be sorted out this legislative session, Swenson said.

“Firstly, the House has the ability to focus on social legislation that it knows will be not be taken up by the Senate,” Swenson said. “The Senate really does not have the ability to play that game as effectively as the House.”

Swenson also said: “It is an article of faith that commercial property tax as well as corporation income tax will be addressed. If there is reform, I believe the Senate version — which favors small businesses — will be implemented. I do not believe there will be meaningful reform in other categories of taxes.”

For Iowa State, Abhishek Vemuri, president of the ISU College Democrats, said he hopes that financial aid and student debt will be addressed this year as well.

“Definitely affordability at universities is a big issue for college students,” Vemuri said. “We will want to see some tangible action on improving the affordability of college and reducing debt.”

The first day of the 85th Iowa General Assembly will be Jan. 14, 2013, at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.